8:40am Friday 6th September 2013
ULSTER beware: Newport Gwent Dragons debutant Netani Talei has been tipped to make a devastating impact at Rodney Parade tonight.
The Fijian back row forward will start this evening's RaboDirect Pro12 opener on the bench, getting the nod ahead of Wales Under-20s starlet Ieuan Jones and rested Lions star Toby Faletau.
Talei, 30, only linked up with his new teammates last week because of visa problems but has taken to life at Rodney Parade like a duck to water.
His training ground exploits have earned an early chance to impress against Ulster with his experience and ability with ball in hand making him an ideal impact replacement.
Talei, who was shortlisted for European player of the year in 2012, isn't just about raw power – as the Dragons found to their cost in the final game of last season.
He was man of the match in Edinburgh's win at Murrayfield and his neat sidestep on his way to the tryline left chop-tackling specialist Dan Lydiate clutching at thin air.
Forwards coach Kingsley Jones has backed his new back row forward to impress against an Ulster side that will be without their own wrecking ball number eight Nick Williams.
"Talei brings a great deal of experience and massive ball-carrying ability late in the game," said forwards coach Kingsley Jones.
"He has such power and that could be devastating in the closing stages tonight. He only joined us last month but he has slotted in so well and brings something different to the side.
"I've known about him since he was at Doncaster with Clive Griffiths and he always causes problems when he gets the ball in hands.
"There's no doubt that he will be desperate to make his mark in his first game at Rodney Parade."
Talei will have to bide his time after the coaching team opted to stick with the back row of Jevon Groves, Nic Cudd and Lewis Evans that started against Bath in pre-season.
"I was really impressed by how they went so they all deserve to start again," said Jones. "We are spoilt for choice in the back row with Ieuan and Toby sitting this one out."
Dragons v Ulster preview on page 37
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